Hit back at Pak, short of war

Hit back at Pak, short of war
Highlights

Indian diplomats are often derided as being “only good at drafting notes.” But drafting they certainly do well. The stinging response to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the United Nations General Assembly is that.  

Indian diplomats are often derided as being “only good at drafting notes.” But drafting they certainly do well. The stinging response to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the United Nations General Assembly is that.

India called terror as “the worst form of human rights abuse” and accused Pakistan of “war crimes” and of spreading its “toxic curriculum” around the world.

An unmistakable reference was made to Pakistan’s sponsorship of Taliban and the culture they spawn, hinting at their destruction of the Buddha statues at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. India reminded: ‘The land of Takshashila (Taxila),” one of ancient world’s greatest learning centres, “today hosts the Ivy League of terrorism.”

To Americans observing its 15th anniversary, India reminded that the trail of 9/11, arguably the world’s worst terror attack, had led to Abbottabad, deep inside Pakistan, where the mayhem’s mastermind Osama bin Laden was located and eliminated.

Eenam Gambhir, a young woman first secretary at India’s UN mission, pointed to the overwhelming military presence in Pakistan’s polity, its "democracy deficit" and suppression of minorities and women.

Stating that Pakistan's nuclear proliferation record was marked by "deception and deceit," the diplomat said Pakistan had repeatedly made similar false promises on terrorism.

Pakistan's madrasas were terror universities recruiting "aspirants and apprentices" from all over the world. Hence, it was odd that the "global epicentre of terrorism" was speaking of self-determination and handing out "hypocritical sermons," she said rebutting Pakistan’s campaign on developments in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan was a "terrorist state" channelling billions of dollars, much of it diverted from international aid, to launch "military proxies" against neighbours. With UN-dsignated "terrorist entities" roaming freely with state support, she called out Sharif for eulogising a "self-acknowledged commander of a known terrorist organisation Hizbul Mujahideen."

Eanam Gambhir was the woman of the match who handed over Sharif what was arguably a humiliating defeat at the UNGA. By fielding her against Sharif, India sought to convey that her repost was enough to call the Pakistani bluff and bluster.

India and Pakistan have clashed many times at the UN. The longest was during 1948-49 by V K Krishna Menon who held forth for several days. But never before has India responded with such restrained vehemence.

It was India’s day at the UN. Many Indians get swayed by the swagger and aggressiveness of Pakistani diplomats. For a change, the applause is for the home team. The speech Gambhir delivered is being credited to Syed Akbaruddin, Permanent Representative at the UN, incidentally a Hyderabdi.

He is said to have impressed Prime Minister Modi enough to be elevated to this top slot bypassing many seniors. The government is putting serving diplomats in missions that were from time to time assigned to political appointees, including retired diplomats, not that they were any less effective.

Placing serving diplomats in key positions, besides invigorating the Foreign Service, also gives an unmistakable young and hands-on touch to diplomacy.

Writer-diplomat Navtej Sarna had been only a few months as the High Commissioner to Britain. He has been shifted to the United States. Arun Kumar Singh retired from service, topping his career in Washington. Earlier, political appointees included retired diplomats Nirupama Rao, Meera Shankar and Ronen Sen.

Undoubtedly, they were all good in their tenures and shepherded India’s growing proximity with the US.
We are heading for a prolonged no-holds-barred diplomatic war. Modi will likely not attend the SAARC Summit in Islamabad, having for company other boycotters, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, both of whom are unhappy with Pakistan for varying reasons.

The government has resumed its policy of isolating Pakistan in the region through BIMSTEC, a minus-Pakistan grouping. The Asian Development Bank is to loan $1 billion to build highways connecting Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

Pakistan is feeling the heat and has none to turn to, save the dogged Chinese. It is trying hard to activate the OIC, the grouping of Muslim nations, playing on their sentiment on the ongoing violence in Jammu and Kashmir that, it must be admitted, is proving to be India’s Achilles heel.

It is tempting to think what India-Pakistan match would have been like but for the killing of Burhan Wani in July or the Uri attack earlier this month. But ifs and buts have no place in the current surcharged mood when violence of words could any day turn to conflict.

It has been an eventful UNGA session with Sharif taking on the Americans who are derided by Pakistanis as ungrateful people who have ditched Pakistan, yet again, once the latter’s ‘utility’ is over. Now the US is seen as tilting towards India.

But the Indians need not rejoice. The US has a double-faced approach to South Asia. After Sharif met John Kerry, the joint statement did refer to “violence’ in J&K, a hint at two months of protests, but cleverly attaching the Uri attack to it. The US is ‘concerned’ but did not blame Pakistan for Uri, nor did it treat Uri as an act of cross-border terrorism.

Next, Sharif believes in surviving to fight another day. He knows that he still holds the trump card in the shape of Afghan Taliban. In his UNGA speech, he reminded the Americans that fighting terrorism was “a collective task” that could not be achieved by passing resolutions and censuring allies seen as not “doing more.” This was a clear hint at the US Congress debating a bill that aims to declare Pakistan as a “terrorist state.”

Beyond strong words censuring Pakistan, the US is loath to act. When tensions arose in 2001 following an attack on India’s parliament by Kashmiri jihadis infiltrated by Pakistan, and in 2008 by Pakistan-based jihadis in Mumbai, armed conflict was avoided by some sensible thinking by India, but more because the US aggressively mediated. Will Pathankot/Uri attacks see a repeat of this?

India’s tolerance threshold has surely been breached this time. Influential opinion makers, including from his own party and the Sangh, are demanding that Modi make good the word he gave before he took office and adopt a muscular approach. Even the Modi-baiting Pakistani media is speculating on a “measured conflict.”

Global sympathy is with India. Even in Pakistan, saner elements concede this. In his editorial in The Friday Times, celebrated journalist Najam Sethi says, “regardless of what Pakistan says, the world is convinced of “a Pakistani hand” in the Uri attack, as in 2001 and 2008.”

Underscoring the difference between then and now, he says unlike in 2001 and 2008 when the US was “actively engaged in propping up Pakistan in its own self-interest because of 9/11 and then Afghanistan, this time Pakistan is relatively isolated because it is not supporting the US mission in Afghanistan.”

What can India do? First, all war-like rhetoric should ebb. Measures short of a conflict need to be devised and acted upon. There is no running away from mending one’s fences. Uri, like the previous terror attacks, once again exposes India. Despite intelligence alerts, the government failed again. There is no effort at holding anybody accountable.

Putting the house in order has a new meaning this time. The government needs to curb the cow vigilantes. Their actions have already given India a bad name. At this juncture, a sectarian flare-up is the worst thing India should have.

Should it retaliate, how and when? Surprised by Pakistan, yet again, India has lost the advantage that may have accrued from a quick retaliatory attack. Undoubtedly, this is easier said than done. But in public perception, Modi and his government were required to do something that they failed.

Whether or not the moment for military action has passed – one is still awaiting that “opportune time”– politically, that moment has certainly passed. Leading a nation into a conflict is not an easy task. But to be seen as confused or prevaricating does not send a positive signal either.

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